Westminster Dog Show

Westminster Dog Show

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Second Monday and Tuesday in February
Where Celebrated: New York City
Symbols and Customs: Benching, Best in Show, Dog Fanciers' Luncheon, Dog Writers Association Awards Dinner, Scoring, Terminology

ORIGINS

Often referred to as the "World Series" or "Super Bowl" of dog shows, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, as it is officially known, is the second oldest continuously held sporting event in the United States, surpassed only by the KENTUCKY DERBY , which is less than two years older. The idea for an annual dog show to be held in New York City came from a group of men who raised sporting dogs and met periodically at New York's Westminster Hotel. They decided to form the Westminster Kennel Club, which held its "First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs" on May 8-10, 1877. It featured more than 1,200 dogs and was such a success that they added a fourth day to the competition. By 1883 the show had found a permanent home at Madison Square Garden, where it has been held (with a few exceptions) ever since. Although it was eventually cut back to a three-day show and then to its present two-day format, the Westminster Dog Show quickly became an institution for dog-fanciers across the United States.

Although the judging itself lasts only two days, preparation for the show begins a year or more in advance with the selection of about forty judges who are divided into seven groups according to the type of dog: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. Since 1992, the show's 2,500 entries have been limited to American Kennel Club champions, which are dogs that have accumulated a certain number of points by winning at smaller dog shows. And although entry forms used to arrive by mail and were opened at random, which meant that the first 2,500 to be opened were the only dogs allowed to compete, this rule was changed in 2000. Now approximately 780 dogs-the top five in each breed at American Kennel Club shows during the preceding year-receive special invitations to enter, thus ensuring that the very best dogs in America get a chance to compete for Westminster's top honor, BEST IN SHOW .

What kind of dogs can be seen at Westminster? In 2007, 165 different breeds were represented, with dachshund, Irish setter, Chinese shar-pei, Australian shepherd, and rotweiler being some of the top breeds entered. The Westminster Kennel Club's logo, however, features a pointer-based on a photograph of Sensation, a legendary pointer once owned by the club who was said to have the most nearly perfect head of any dog in his breed at the time.

The show itself is covered by more than 600 journalists from more than twenty countries, including many members of the Dog Writers Association of America (see DOG WRITERS ASSOCIATION AWARDS DINNER ). But it was the decision to televise the event in the early 1980s that led to expanded public interest in the show, which currently attracts about 35,000 spectators and almost five million television viewers in more than 140 countries. The show also received a tremendous boost with the 2000 release of the popular movie Best in Show, starring Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Benching

Since 1883 the Westminster Dog Show has been what is called a "benched" show. This means that all of the dogs who are competing on a particular day must stay on their assigned benches throughout the judging process, which goes on for several hours-unless, of course, they are being groomed or exercised. The benches are divided into separate areas for each dog by partitions, but the benching area is still very crowded. While benching makes it easier for spectators, breeders, and judges to view and discuss the various breeds being judged, it also puts tremendous pressure on the dogs to sit still and behave. There are currently fewer than ten benched shows held in the United States each year.

Best in Show

The award for "Best in Show" has been given since 1907. It goes to the dog who has received top honors from three separate judges: the one who judges the breed, the one who judges the group (Sporting, Hound, Working, Herding, etc.), and the Best in Show judge. The latter is someone with years of experience as a breed and a group judge who has raised champion dogs in the past. The owner of the dog judged Best in Show receives a silver trophy from the Westminster Kennel Club.

The judge normally looks at the dog's general appearance, condition, and carriage. Particular attention is paid to the head, including the dog's eyes, ears, skull, and muzzle. The color and texture of its coat are important, as are its hindquarters, forequarters, feet, and tail. Even temperament comes into play. Wire fox terriers have won Best in Show the most number of times, and the terrier group has produced more winners than any other group. Over the years, however, the winners have ranged from a 155-pound Newfoundland to a four-pound Pomeranian. The only dog to win Best in Show three times was a smooth fox terrier named Warren Remedy in 1907-1909. In 2008, the beagle Uno won Best in Show, the first time a beagle had ever won the top award at the Westminster Dog Show.

Dog Fanciers' Luncheon

A week of social gatherings accompanies the Westminster Dog Show, and the highlight is the Dog Fanciers' Luncheon on the day after the judging has concluded. Held at Sardi's, the well-known Manhattan restaurant, the luncheon gives the judges an opportunity to compare notes and to speak informally about their decisions. The annual "Fido" Awards are also presented at the luncheon for "Man of the Year," "Woman of the Year," "Handler of the Year," and "Writer of the Year." A place of honor is reserved at the luncheon for the dog who has been named Best in Show.

Dog Writers Association Awards Dinner

The Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) was established in 1935 to make sure that the journalists who cover dog shows are provided with the facilities and equipment they need to do their jobs. The DWAA also holds an annual writing competition that is open to both amateurs and professionals who write about the sport of raising, breeding, and showing dogs as well as other aspects of dog ownership. The biggest event of the year for these dog writers is the annual dinner held on the Sunday night before the Westminster Dog Show. It is here that the writing competition awards are presented and that dog writers from all over the country get a chance to meet and discuss the next day's competition.

Scoring

The judging process is taken very seriously at Westminster, and the weight given to various aspects of a dog's appearance and behavior has been carefully worked out over the years. A maximum of thirty points is awarded for appearance, temperament, carriage, and condition. The dog's head, expression, ears, eyes, and teeth are worth a maximum of twenty points, and up to twenty points are given for the body, neck, legs, feet, and tail. Gait can earn up to twenty points, and the color and texture of the dog's coat make up the final ten points for a perfect score of 100.

Terminology

Standard - The written description of the traits and movement of the ideal specimen of a breed, generally based on form and function. Conformation - The structure and physical characteristics of a dog. Stack - The pose itself or the posing of the dog in its natural stance by a handler. Gait - The action of movement of the dog.

WEB SITES

American Kennel Club www.akc.org/index.cfm

Westminster Kennel Club www.westminsterkennelclub.org
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